Diners always get a show with their dinner when they go to a teppanyaki-style restaurant.
You know what I’m talking about. The clanking of the metal spatulas. Flaming onion volcanoes. And the ubiquitous egg flip into the teppanyaki chef’s stovepipe hat. It’s usually the same kind of flashy show no matter where you go — whether it’s in Milwaukee or Meridian.
Growing up in Seattle, I remember going to these kinds of Japanese steakhouses (Benihana comes to mind) and being mesmerized by the flaring flattop grill and mischievous ways of the exhibition chefs. What kid doesn’t like to see Dad take a flying shrimp off the chin?
So, when Izumi Japanese Steak House & Lounge recently opened on Eagle Road in Meridian, I couldn’t wait to take my kids there for dinner and a show.
Owner Ryan Jiang hails from China, and most of his cordial staff are Chinese as well. This helps to explain the shrimp shumai and wonton soup featured on the starter portion of the menu alongside other Pan-Asian offerings. But the food here mostly stays the Nipponese course with a multitude of hibachi choices, sushi and yakisoba noodles.
Jiang completely renovated the former Mongo’s Grill space, which included building a stylish sushi bar and a lounge area bathed in green light right inside the front door.
The main dining room got transformed into a hibachi playground. Here, you will find 10 teppanyaki stations (with two grills each) and a private room for more intimate get togethers.
One night, we kicked back on the tall-backed chairs that surround the open grills and dug into an ornate Crazy Bumblebee specialty roll ($14.99). The cooked roll, cut into four pieces, displayed a pinwheel of tempura-coated lobster, asparagus and avocado on the inside, the outside adorned with shaved mango and a hillock of sweet chili sauce-drenched seaweed salad — next to customary dabs of wasabi and pickled ginger.
We made short work of the fusion roll while our teppanyaki chef, Leo, fired up the grill in front of us and left for the kitchen to load his squeaky-wheeled cart.
After placing our hibachi orders — steak and scallops ($24.99), calamari ($16.99), chicken ($15.99) and kids’ shrimp ($10.99) — we were promptly served little bowls of fragrant chicken broth soup and an iceberg lettuce salad swimming in ginger dressing that tasted more like mustard than anything else.
It wasn’t long before Leo started flipping broccoli flowerettes at us like we were trained seals. I easily captured one in my mouth, no problem, while my daughter soon had broccoli hanging from her hair. My son finally snagged a vegetable in midair after a few tries, yet my wife stayed tight-lipped throughout the flying-food circus. Everyone at the table had a good laugh when Leo pulled out a water gun filled with sake and started blasting it at my open mouth.
He then arranged the ingredients for our chosen meals on the scorching grill. Of course, along the way, there was the expected egg flip in the hat, a flaming onion volcano (and a steam locomotive variation) and some more sake shot in dad’s direction.
We were first served fried rice, followed by the griddle-cooked proteins and veggies. The sirloin steak, nailed at medium in temperature, was chopped into bite-size pieces on the grill next to five perfectly seared scallops.
Also on the grill were large alabaster hoops of calamari, which were slightly tough yet thankfully not chewy like rubber bands.
My son enjoyed the chicken, tender and coated in a gingery soy sauce, that Leo plopped on his plate. It’s surely a good choice for those with an aversion to seafood.
I nabbed a few shrimp from my daughter’s plate (hey, it’s part of the job), and I’m happy to report that they were plump, tender and reminiscent of the ocean.
Hibachi items come with two dipping sauces: a creamy, yellowish sauce that surprisingly smacks of lemon cheesecake and a darker sauce redolent of ginger.
During a second visit, I showed up with friends and sat in the small dining area behind the bar. We focused on the kitchen starters.
Shrimp shumai dumplings ($4.99) stay true to Cantonese-style dim sum, with six little, steamed purses pinched tightly around briny and sweet shrimp bites, garnished with bright dots of tobiko (flying fish roe).
Fans of teriyaki should try the beef negimaki ($7.99), a row of marinated and grilled flank steak roulades (filled with strands of scallion) lined up on a rectangular platter with thick and sugary teriyaki sauce draped over each roll.
Another good pick is the mango and tuna salad ($9.99). A long line of raw ahi tuna medallions (seared around the edges) come crowned with chopped, ripe mango and a drizzle of wasabi-tinged yuzu dressing.
I would probably skip the Indian pancakes ($5.29) next time, mostly because the griddle cakes were a little greasy and the watery yellow curry dipping sauce didn’t boast much flavor.
As far as the hibachi offerings go, Izumi toes the line with other Japanese steakhouses around the Treasure Valley. But it’s certainly a fun place to enjoy dinner and a show.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: email@example.com.
Izumi Japanese Steak House & Lounge
Address: 3560 N. Eagle Road, Meridian
Phone: (208) 898-2552
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Menu price range: appetizers, soups and salads $2.29-$11.29; sushi items $3.99-$10.99; hibachi and entrées $8.99-$40.99
Libation situation: Good selection of draft and bottled Asian and domestic brews (even some local beers), sake galore, wines by the glass and Asian-inspired cocktails.
Kid friendly? Oh yeah.
Wheelchair accessible? There are tables in the dining room behind the bar and in the sushi bar area, but the teppanyaki grills are too high for wheelchairs.
Opened: April 2016